Whitney and I met Rhonda Lee in Austin, Texas last year. She had an amazing spirit and shared her love for Sporty Afros and our mission. She is one of a few women meteorologist and I have enjoyed watching her on-camera when I can.
Unfortunately, Rhonda Lee was fired from the ABC affiliate in Shreveport, La. because she responded to a racial remark posted by a viewer on the station’s Facebook page regarding her hair. This entire situation seems odd. There are numerous black reporters who wear their hair natural in front of the camera.
Natural Hair is Becoming More Mainstream for Newscasters
Rhonda Lee is not the first natural-haired newscaster, so what’s all of the fuss about? There are more natural-haired newscasters now than several years ago.
Rene Syler, co-host of CBS News’ The Early Show several years ago, speaks candidly about how natural hair is more acceptable for newscasters now than when she first started in the business.
Tonya Mosley is a TV Newscaster in Seattle, Washington. Initially, after she did the “big chop” she expected a lot of negative comments and push back, but she received the exact opposite! She gets tons compliments and positive emails!
In 1971, Legendary New York City television reporter Melba Tolliver was banned from WABC’s studio after she went from relaxed to natural. She had been assigned to cover Trisha Nixon’s White House wedding and they suggested she either relax her hair back or wear a head scarf. A local newspaper got wind of what was going on.The public responded incredibly positive to her hair change, even people who didn’t care for her natural hair thought the choice of hairstyle was her right. Decades later Tolliver still wears her hair chemical free.
Earlier this year, Rochelle Ritchie of WPTV-TV in West Palm Beach, Florida decided to go ‘natural’ and let viewers see the transformation. Rochelle discussed this journey with her fellow newscaster. Her news director said,” I had no clue this was an issue. I never heard about it. I instantly bought into this story.” His only concern was that the viewing audience wouldn’t care; however, this turned out not to be an issue. During the process, the ratings of Ritchie’s show increased and she received national attention and support.
The commentary that led to Rhonda Lee’s firing
On Oct. 1, a viewer identified as Emmitt Vascocu wrote, “the black lady that does the news is a very nice lady.the only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv. what about letting someone a male have waist long hair do the news.what about that (cq).”
Rhonda’s response – “Hello Emmitt–I am the ‘black lady’ to which you are referring. I’m sorry you don’t like my ethnic hair. And no I don’t have cancer. I’m a non-smoking, 5’3, 121 lbs, 25 mile a week running, 37.5 year old woman, and I’m in perfectly healthy physical condition.
I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair. For your edification: traditionally our hair doesn’t grow downward. It grows upward. Many Black women use strong straightening agents in order to achieve a more European grade of hair and that is their choice. However in my case I don’t find it necessary. I’m very proud of who I am and the standard of beauty I display. Women come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty. Showing little girls that being comfortable in the skin and HAIR God gave me is my contribution to society. Little girls (and boys for that matter) need to see that what you look like isn’t a reason to not achieve their goals.
“Conforming to one standard isn’t what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that.
“Thank you for your comment and have a great weekend and thank for watching.
I applaud Lee’s response to the viewer because reinforces Sporty Afros motto – #HealthOverHair.
The viewer replied and agreed that Lee was right to be proud of who she is. He also indicated that he was not a racist, but “. . . this world has . . . certain standerd (cq). if youve come from a world of being poor are you going to dress in rags?. . .”
WOW!! I mean, for real?
The news station’s lack of consideration for Rhonda Lee
Most stations edit comments on their social media outlets. Sometimes they even block certain accounts/people if their comments are deemed inappropriate, racist or sexist. Apparently, the news station wasn’t very involved when it came to the comments about Rhonda Lee and her hair or other racially insensitive comments.
Another comment read:
In a Nov. 14 post, viewer Kenny Moreland wrote,
“Not to start any trouble, because I think that the annual ‘Three Minute Smile’ is a great function and I love to see kids so happy. Am I the only one that has noticed that this year, all the kids, lets say, are people of color? This is Channel 3, not KSLA, the ‘Project Pride’ network, that might as well be part of the BET Channel. Did KTBS slip up on a news story, and owe S’port’s criminal mayor Cedric, a favor? Seems like some racism going on to me. Just saying…..”
Lee replied the next day,
“I’m not sure I understand your comment, ‘…this is Channel 3 not KSLA…’ What are you trying to say?
“The children are picked at random. So there goes your theory that they are selected for their color. I would like to think it doesn’t matter who the child is. If you truly just want to see the kids happy your message had a funny way of showing it.
“Happy holidays.–Met. Rhonda Lee”
Rhonda Lee explains why she responded to the viewer.
I was the one who brought it to their (news station’s) attention after they let it fester on the page for 6 days, but was then chastised for responding at all. I sent a screen grab to my boss via e-mail telling them that I’m ok with the anti-Rhonda commentary sometimes, but what has been posted at the time was . . . racist, and I asked them to please support me in removing the ones that didn’t encourage thoughtful, respectful and civil discourse on our FB page. I never got a reply, only punished. To this day the posts are still there.”
Lee told Journal-isms, “. . . Race has been the issue with me since I started. That much is VERY true. Weather is an older white boy business and arms have been less than open for a young black girl — a polar opposite. As reported I’ve had more problems here in the south than I have anywhere else in my 25+ years in the business. Perhaps there is a pattern, but I am a glutton for punishment (ha, ha), and I want what I deserve as any professional would so if I have to fight for it I will.”
Here are a few things that strike me as odd:
- The station doesn’t have an official social media policy in place.
- The station explained to Rhonda that the policy she violated isn’t written down, but was mentioned in a newsroom meeting about a month-and-a-half prior. This is a meeting she didn’t attend.
- Employees were expected to be held accountable for an unofficial social media policy that was never written down or distributed properly.
- The station has allowed several comments (negative, rude and offensive) to be left on their Facebook page.
- KTBS crime reporter, Chris Redford was fired for responding to a reported gay-stalker from his Facebook account.
After looking at KTBS‘ Facebook account, the station hardly comments or interacts with those who are posting. The reporters/employees seem to respond to questions and comments via their own profiles. After looking at several of the comments, I was appalled.
Sporty Afros’ Natural Hair at Work